Track Coach

TC241 Editorial Column

From the Editor – RUSS EBBETS


I have always liked doing an interview. Granted, they were much work on the front end but if I got all the research done, sculpted the questions right and organized the material so that it elicited a theme for the piece, I was usually pleased with the result.

While some might counter that an interview is not really all that technical, I’d disagree. One of the problems with asking someone to write an article for Track Coach is that the whole process can be daunting. Time is always an issue. And many coaches, by nature, might not be “writers” as such and the idea of getting their thoughts down on a sheet of paper can be intimidating. Multiple thoughts can swirl in a coach’s mind – where does one start? What is most important? How much detail is necessary? All that can create obstacles to creativity and paralyze thought.

Of course, there is the recorded interview, with comments made “off the cuff” but again some don’t like to do that because they may say something they don’t necessarily mean or on second thought might not really believe in. Some get talking and don’t stop and what comes out may be too wide-ranging, lack focus and be almost meaningless to most people.

With a written interview I can break the whole process down into smaller parts (like Maslow’s manageable wholes) and allow the coach to elucidate his or her thoughts in a paragraph or two and then move on to the next question. If I have done a good job structuring the questions properly one issue or idea should be addressed with each question. The coach gives his thoughts, and the process builds into a cohesive whole. This may allow the coach to express a comprehensive overview of his program, his philosophy or other thoughts and feelings, giving the reader an informative and educational “peek behind the curtain” of an individual who has achieved an exceptional level of success in his discipline.

When I first asked Charles “Chip” Button to do an interview he politely declined. It was November 2021 and Chip was in the middle of the high school cross country championship season. His boys’ team was vying for the top program in New York State. It was bad timing on my part as there were no doubt dozens of thoughts swirling around his mind as he endeavored to achieve the ultimate level of promise his team appeared to have. I shelved the project.

Resending my request in January 2022 Chip politely declined again. His answer was more detailed and thoughtful. He made several self-effacing comments that could be summarized with “there’s nothing special here,” as he politely declined a second time.

I felt Chip was wrong. His Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake High School program has long been a first-stop for East Coast college coaches looking to fill out their rosters with one of his latest stars. Year after year his program has produced well coached, well mannered boys and girls for whom running is a team concept and whose contribution to a new team could be made in many different ways.

My third request countered Chip’s “reasons” one-by-one. I asked again if he’d do the interview and added if he declined, I’d ask a fourth or fifth time if need be.

Why the persistence? A state championship for any coach is a lifetime achievement. For many coaches this achievement solidifies a coach’s career. In some 40 years of coaching, Chip’s boys and girls teams have won 14 NYS Cross Country Championships. During that time Chip’s teams have won some 34 regional sectional titles in the Class B (editor’s note – NYS is broken down into four classes, large schools are A’s and the smallest schools are D’s, the state is further broken down into 14 regional sections). When his teams have not won the sectionals they were the team the eventual winner had to beat.

Chip has never spoken at a clinic. He told me it is not his “thing.” But he has attended countless clinics, listening and learning, toying with ideas and tinkering with changes that have created a juggernaut program that yearly identifies, develops and manages talent throughout a high school career. And while what he does on a daily basis may be, to use his words, “nothing special” one would be hard pressed to find another program with his similar successes.

The secret to success is almost never “one thing” but rather many, many little, seemingly insignificant, things. Individually these “things” might not amount to much but taken in total produce the successful outcome. Ironically, even a coach may dismiss many of the “details” as not important, too mundane or insignificant. The interview has allowed me to highlight the details, thoughts, beliefs and actions that in total, create a grand mosaic of what a successful coach, program or career looks like from the outside looking in.

Well, this has been a bit anticlimactic since the Chip Button Interview arrived too late for inclusion in this issue. Watch for it in #142; it’ll be worth the wait.